INDIANAPOLIS -- When most coaches want to praise a young quarterback, they liken him to some of the men who have defined the position -- like Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw or Joe Montana.
Indianapolis Colts coach Ron Meyer goes in a different direction when he talks about the potential of his rookie quarterback, Jeff George.
He compares him to Larry Bird. Larry Bird?
"Maybe it's because they come from the same state [Indiana], but he reminds me a lot of what a Larry Bird can do on a basketball court," Meyer said this week. "He has that canniness about him that allows him to make the big plays. He might not hit three-pointers every time, but he's the guy you want shooting the ball."
George will be shooting the ball tonight when the Colts play host to the Washington Redskins in an ABC-TV "Monday Night Game" that is being played on Saturday night because Monday is
Christmas Eve and the National Football League didn't want to schedule a game that evening.
There's not a lot at stake for either team. The Redskins are trying to clinch home-field advantage in the National Football Conference wild-card game while the Colts are trying to stave off expected elimination from the playoffs.
Even Meyer seems to have written off the playoff chances of the Colts (6-8). "I think [our chances] are slim and none and slim left town," Meyer said.
George's test against the Washington defense will be one of the few intriguing things about this seemingly lackluster game.
Redskins assistant head coach Richie Petitbon uses complicated schemes that often confuse rookie quarterbacks.
Since Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles beat them as a rookie in 1985, the Redskins are 6-1 against rookie quarterbacks, losing only to Steve Walsh of the Dallas Cowboys a year ago.
The jury still is out on George, but he's shown potential in his rookie season and hopes to prove wrong the skeptics who thought that the Colts gave up too much to get him.
They traded wide receiver Andre Rison, left tackle Chris Hinton and a first-round pick next year to the Atlanta Falcons to get the first pick in the 1990 draft to select George.
Though George is a native of Indianapolis, Indianapolis fans complained that his price tag was too high.
Nobody questioned George's arm, but many scouts wondered whether he was tough enough physically and mentally to lead a team.
Meyer and George scoff at the critics.
George, who endured a lot of flak when he transferred from Purdue to Illinois after Purdue coach Leon Burtnett, now the Colts running backs coach, was fired after the 1986 season, said: "I pretty much ignored it [the criticism]. I've been under pressure all my life."
Said Meyer: "To each his own. The ability to select personnel might be the most subjective area there is.
"I didn't know Mel Kiper was a scout," he added, referring to the Baltimore-based ESPN draft analyst who is one of George's most vocal critics.
Kiper hasn't changed his opinion. "He's got a good arm and a lot of talent, but he's not a leader," he said. "Against the weaker teams, he'll throw for some yards, but if you hit him early, he'll abandon ship very quickly. He'll never take them to the Super Bowl."
Kiper also thinks that George will be hindered by the Colts organization, which is run by owner Bob Irsay and his son, Jim. The Colts haven't won a playoff game since Irsay bought the team in 1972.
"Dan Marino couldn't take the Colts to the Super Bowl, either, as long as they're run by Bob Irsay," Kiper said.
Although Meyer admits that the Colts need to surround George with better players, he, not surprisingly, has nothing but good things to say about Irsay.
There was a lot of speculation earlier this year that Meyer would be fired, but Bob Irsay said this week that the head coach will be back next season, although some of his assistants may not be.
"Ron will be here next year," Irsay told The Indianapolis News. "He has a contract for next year, and we're going to keep him.
"I've had a couple of long talks with Ron, and I think we've found where our problem is," the Colts' owner said. "I think when you're sick, you have to find out what's wrong. . . I think we've got to correct some of the coaching staff as far as offensive and defensive plays. I think we've got the horses; we just have to correct it."
Meyer said: "I think I have a tremendous relationship with him [Bob Irsay]. I think we communicate well. He likes results just like any other owner in the NFL, but he gave me the chance to return to the NFL [after Meyer was fired by the New England Patriots] and I appreciate that."
Since Indianapolis is his hometown, George couldn't be happier about playing here.
"I'm playing in my hometown in a great situation and making good money," he said. "It's everything that I dreamed of. The only bad thing is that we're not winning as many games as I'd like."